Weren’t Eligible for Unemployment Benefits? Apply for the Excluded Workers Fund

New York’s Excluded Workers Fund, which is intended to provide much-needed relief to workers cut off from government unemployment benefits and stimulus checks during the pandemic, is now open.

Any workers — including undocumented immigrants — who weren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, can apply. The funds do not need to be paid back.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers in Albany created the historic $2.1 billion fund to assist undocumented and nontraditional workers as part of last-minute state budget negotiations in April. The state recently released the official regulations laying out what it will take to qualify.

Here’s the status of the fund, some tips for applying and resources to help New Yorkers access the cash.

First: This is a big deal

With $2.1 billion of state money, New York’s Excluded Workers Fund is the largest program of its kind in the country dedicated to supporting workers who couldn’t qualify for government assistance during the pandemic.

The fund has the potential to be very helpful to about 300,000 of the workers hit hardest by COVID and who were deemed essential to getting New York through the pandemic. Among them: food service workers, domestic workers, construction workers, cleaners, farmworkers, care workers, street vendors and more.

At one point, more than half of the city’s immigrants were unemployed, experts estimated. But workers without legal immigration status couldn’t get unemployment benefits or stimulus checks to help make ends meet for the past nearly year and a half.

Some workers went on a hunger strike to advocate for this fund — and they won.

But… there are some concerns

Workers, advocates and some lawmakers who pushed for the Excluded Workers Fund are worried about potential barriers — namely the strict set of documentation required by the state’s Department of Labor to determine eligibility.

The final list of requirements was published on July 27, with a new one added: Workers now have to show that they lost 50% of their earnings.

Advocates and excluded workers fear this new requirement will be very hard to prove — especially for self-employed workers and workers in the cash economy — and it’s unique to the Excluded Workers Fund. People do not have to show a 50% loss of income to get Unemployment Insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or to qualify for other relief like the state’s Emergency Rent Assistance Program.

Lessons learned from rent relief? Maybe not

Advocates are concerned the state will repeat mistakes that made it difficult to get needed money out to people through the rent relief program, both the first and now the second time around.

New York distributed less than $1 million of the $2.7 billion for rent relief in the program’s first two months. Cuomo recently announced plans to further “streamline” the application process so more people can get relief quicker, but has yet to release those details.

Website glitches and other technical problems have made it difficult for people to apply for rent relief, and advocates and lawmakers are concerned that the Excluded Workers Fund application launch will see the same issues.

Despite these concerns, you can get your application ready and start submitting it at any time.

Here’s what you need to know to apply for the Excluded Workers Fund

You can qualify for the Excluded Workers Fund if you:

  • Lived in New York State before March 27, 2020, and continue to live in New York State
  • Are not eligible for and did not receive unemployment insurance or COVID-19 income relief
  • Earned less than $26,208 in the year before April 2021
  • Lost income from March 27, 2020, through April 1, 2021, because you lost work, couldn’t work because of COVID or if the person making your household’s income died or became disabled

A new important thing to know: In addition to the income limit, the state is now also requiring workers to show that they lost at least 50% of their weekly income from the end of February 2020 through April 2021.

How much can you get from the fund?

The Excluded Workers Fund has two tiers:

  • Tier one: $15,600, which is what one would have earned through unemployment insurance for the past year
  • Tier two: $3,200, which is how much someone would have gotten from the stimulus checks

Tier one requires more documents.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

DOs

DO prepare your documents

You’ll need documents to prove three things:

  • Your identity
  • Your residency
  • Your work history

The program is using a point system for documents in which applicants need to provide enough documents to add up to a certain number of points. Some documents are worth more points than others. Some documents will be helpful in fulfilling multiple categories, such as an IDNYC card.

Important to note: If your documents aren’t already in English, you’ll need a certified English translation to go with them.

The point system may seem complicated at first, but this link will walk you through it. Just take your time and breathe.

DO apply for IDNYC

Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, deputy director of the Street Vendor Project, said she’s recommending people try to get an appointment to apply for an IDNYC card as soon as possible.

An IDNYC card is an official form of government ID from the city that anyone can get, regardless of immigration status.

The card meets the full requirement for proving both identity and residency for the Excluded Workers Fund. So having an IDNYC card can make the application process much easier.

You can schedule an appointment here.

DO make a plan for how to upload your documents and complete your application

There is no paper option, so you have to apply online. This can be easier if you have clear photos of or scanned versions of all your documents.

If you don’t know how to do any of this or don’t have access to a computer to upload the documents, reach out to someone who can help. We list a bunch of organizations at the bottom of this newsletter.

DO keep these things in mind

You can be eligible for the Excluded Workers Fund no matter your immigration status.

If you qualify, the payments will be issued with prepaid debit cards.

You’ll have to pay state and federal taxes on the award.

All your documents will be private and safe. They’re not public record, and will not be disclosed to other government agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

DO reach out and ask for help if you need it.

You can call your state senator or Assembly member’s office for application assistance. Find out who your representatives are and how to contact them by putting in your address here.

And, these 38 organizations in New York City got money from the state to help workers apply for free. Click on the organization name from this list for more information — including their phone number and which languages they can provide assistance in — or check out this map to find help near you.

DON’Ts

DON’T wait until the last minute

The Excluded Workers Fund is first-come, first-served, and some of this preparation can take time.

DON’T pay someone to help you

Anytime there’s a lot of money up for grabs, scammers are nearby ready to make a profit.

Any Excluded Workers Fund application assistance should be free. But we’ve heard from readers who have seen ads for attorneys offering to help people apply, and other people offering application assistance services. The government is paying nonprofit organizations to provide free assistance to applicants. So, if someone is trying to charge you for application help, that is a red flag and could be a scam.

Kaufman-Gutierrez from the Street Vendor project said if someone or an organization tries to charge you money, or someone you don’t already know and trust asks for your personal information to help you apply, don’t share information with them.

The Department of Labor will not contact you directly before you apply, unless you signed up to get updates.

You can report scams by filling out this complaint form or by calling the Attorney General Office’s hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

This article was originally posted on Weren’t Eligible for Unemployment Benefits? Apply for the Excluded Workers Fund

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